It was falling into disrepair (but not disuse, clearly, considering the continued pile-up of books, magazines, flyers, random household items), and now it’s not. In fact, there’s a fresh, new structure to frequent. THANK YOU, mystery carpenter!
I wish I could recall where I learned the phrase, this idea that one’s personality is not just birth and place and time and opportunity, but also a construct of unseen, inscrutable influences. Non-fixed, perhaps with some central elements, and definitely with strong strands reaching back to lineage, out to family, out to friends, loves, and chance meetings of heart or intellect, forward to those who come next. For me, it’s not always obvious who architects of my personality are, until I lose one.
Around the time that I met Kirsten Nordt in high school, a favorite family member had warned me away from the path I was tripping down –me: a slightly boyish girl who loved animals, who loved words and books, who unwisely made friends with white kids. I have no doubt that my family member’s desire was for me to thrive, but what I remember most were words that tore at what I was trying to build. His and my truths were not the same, and one of my truths was Kirsten.
Far taller than me, paler, red-haired, with a laugh that invited. Still strangers to one another, we stood in a narrow hall while volunteering as ushers for a high school play and Kirsten joyfully punched my shoulder hard enough to hurt. Friends from that moment forward, she never harmed me the way my family member feared.
When a person sees and can articulate what you are worth, you become that worth. I have learned that people are reflections of one another. Kirsten reflected humor, artistry, generosity, and thoughtfulness. I reflected my budding feminism, curiosity, silly gifts purchased from toy shops, and word-craft. She introduced me to what today remain some of my favorite media, from Bjork to the Wishbone television show to the Griffin & Sabine novel trilogy.
From Kirsten I learned how to respect and celebrate faith, even one I did not share. We shared a love of picture books and the natural world. I spun college and post-college experiences into letters and cards, sailed them across the miles. She became Kirsten Quatela, mother of two and inspired photographer in Portland, OR. I remained Phoebe Sinclair, writer and wanderer, partnered and thriving in Boston, MA. We inspired one another to continue to reach out, by letter, holiday card, art-gift, quick note typed into a blinking message field.
All ends. That is not a choice, but a reality and what I did not expect, I must still accept. In one of our last correspondences, I expressed love and concern, and Kirsten responded: “I appreciate you reaching out and your kind words. Life took an unexpected turn a year ago, but I am walking forward and taking what I can from it to be the best Kirsten I can be.”
That she was.
Thank you for so many things.
For being the pop-culture bookend of my life, opposite Michael Jackson.
For displaying your flamboyant masculinity that operated in wild, electric opposition to the stoic, colorless, emotion-stripped version I was sold in school and social life.
For your lush, full-band sound and music gifts that were the soundtrack to my childhood: 1999, When You Were Mine, Little Red Corvette, Raspberry Beret, Purple Rain, Sign O’The Times, Diamonds & Pearls, Kiss, and Nothing Compares 2 You.
For not being too annoyed or embarrassed to show up to those award shows where the greater Black community claimed you so desperately, it must have chafed. Or, one might say, for your grace.
For showing us how to reclaim your Self when corporations tried to own you beyond what was appropriate or possible.
Finally, it was your image I recognized when I noticed a comic on the wooden, window-side shelf at Carla’s Book Shop in Neptune City, NJ. Strongbow, the character created by Wendy Pini, resembled Prince but behaved like Clint Eastwood, and he drew me into one of my great loves –Elfquest in particular, comic books in general.
Lastly, thank you for purple. I vote we, in the U.S., rename that color for you. ROY G BIP for evah.
Red orange yellow green blue indigo PRINCE
Interrupting this regularly scheduled WHL to re-post tweets. Yeah, I said it.
A Bit of Background
This past week, I participated in an event where I pitched two of my unpublished novel manuscripts on Twitter as part of an event called #DVpit. Essentially, it was a giant, Twitter Accelerated Slush Pile for would-be, hope-to-be, will-be authors, specifically writers of color and/or folks from marginalized or underrepresented communities, and works featuring the same. Why?
Because have you seen publishing? Because agents and editors and writers and readers and their familiars have long been feeling the lack and seek to address it with, among other perhaps more traditional methods, ❤‘s.
Something About Process
I have an affinity for hyper-summary. Usually I can’t get this function to work with my own writing, but thanks to #DVpit (Kudos Supreme to organizer, literary agent Beth Phelan) I was inspired to get down in it, chopping words LEFT and RIGHT! The situation looked a lot like this:
OK Fine, The Tweets
For the most part, these are posted in the order I wrote them, with the initial efforts taking themselves quite seriously and the latter . . . well. You’ll see.
Note: mg = middle grade; novelette = wee novel
As an adult, I have enjoyed bike rides with each person in my family-of-origin, independent of one another. This is not a goal I realized I had ’til it was accomplished.
I’m from a project-based family. We like to do things, collect experiences, learn, examine, uncover, understand. And we like bikes!
I remember being a little thing and my paternal grandfather’s adult-sized tricycle. The sound of bike tires bumping over a boardwalk’s wooden slats. Family mythology has it that same tricycle once ran over my mother’s foot, by accident.
I recall the thick, this-might-be-chemical-y-dangerous smell of grease and seeing bikes in bits in my back yard, old chains soaking in a pickle tub, waiting to be scrubbed silver.
My Strawberry Shortcake Big Wheel; the red tricycle belonging to a neighborhood kid that we’d zip around on like it was a scooter ’til our backs ached; the pretty, blue Columbia that was stolen from my front porch, gone possibly a long time before I noticed. Barreling down broke-up concrete sidewalks from 8th Avenue to 7th, back around to 8th, no adult accompanying me because, as long I stuck to the sidewalk, no need. Learning that freedom can be bought at Toys-R-Us and sized up when my legs grew too long.
Place to place, and person to person. Child to sibling to parent.
There’s nothing like that early love, or the connections it offers. The relationships it helps sustain.
One of the things I appreciate most about long-term friendships is that we get to grow and change together.
We’re sold the idea that friendship is telling secrets at summer camp, laughing over the fryer at that first job, playing video games in the college dorm, or drinks with buddies at the bar. Thank goodness that’s not all. I’m glad the experience isn’t so simple or static or one-dimensional.
Even when it makes me sad or wistful, I’m glad that the long-term friendships in my life have included moving boxes, commiserating over disappointments, tales of exhaustion and woe. I’m glad they’ve included the willingness to feel embarrassed, learning how and when to give space, and listening as carefully as we are able.
Our individual worlds seem so small, but when we combine forces -live our lives together- they feel large.
I was raised radical. You can tell by just by looking at me. Right?
When I recount my childhood, the images I share, the stories I choose: organic garden in the back yard where I ate horseradish and sucked on sugar cane straight from the earth; reading the Qur’an beneath a tree with my mother and brother; celebrating Kwanzaa instead of Christmas; my brother writing reports on important Black people in history, which he turned in to our parents; largely eating and identifying as vegetarian; listening to Islamic prayers on the radio on Sundays; my parents splitting childcare equally (or so it seemed to me); and going places and attending events that did not seem to appeal to other Black families (NJ State rock & gem show, anyone?)
I was taught character over color, over gender, but never to ignore the importance of culture. Family reigns important, but friends are family, too.
I wasn’t permitted to straighten my hair, and I can’t recall that I ever asked.
My personal political is that I’m not really all that political, not in the ways I’m used to seeing/hearing/experiencing. However, to people I meet, I’m aware that it can appear that I walk my politics: it’s my hair (“how long have you been natural?” “oh, since childhood”), my wide smile, my inability to appear or to act other than I am. I speak very little code. I’m nearly the same everywhere, to everyone. I have too many opinions about too many things. Picking one side makes my heart sink with dread, because I see the other. I don’t like to leave people out, not even myself. Where people see problems, I try to look again. And again. And again until I can pull apart what I’m seeing and find the kernel of opportunity, of creativity, of solutions -maybe just-for-now, maybe for the long term.
Like most people I’ve met, I continue to search for where I fit. With my refusal to follow the paths laid out for me, I’ve been: the only girl among boys at the 3rd grade lunch table ; the only non-GirlScout at camp, rocking that windsurfing board; the 13-year-old learning how to train bonsai trees in a class of students age 30+; the sole Black occupant at the youth hostel in Dublin, tagging along with a young White couple; the single, long-standing Black employee at a dotcom; the writer among visual artists at a Failure Support Group; novelist among dancers.
My personal political says: go, see, connect, regret, laugh, mourn, listen, struggle, learn. It does not offer answers, but sometimes it helps me find the questions.
The story, as I like to tell is, is that I knew immediately, when Kirsten punched me (hard!) in the arm while we were meeting for, perhaps, the first time at a volunteer gig in high school: I’m going to be this woman’s friend. That’s it. Ever since.
In high school, Kirsten introduced me to some of my favorite musicians. Her family always held smiles for me when I visited and treated me like I was an equal, not just their oldest daughter’s friend. Her sister and friends didn’t seem to mind that I tagged along to their parties and events.
We grew and changed and moved, as friends often do. Yet, the central piece of our friendship remains. That curiosity, that humor, that attention to what is simple and sweet and beautiful.
Dear Kirsten, I’m sorry I’m late in saying (as I often am, but . . . ) thanks. Those West Coast pinecones are gorgeous.
I don’t cook.
Okay, so that’s not entirely true. More accurately, I don’t enjoy cooking anywhere near as much as I enjoyed being cooked for. It’s an interesting reverse of how I give gifts: I find much satisfaction in considering, hunting down, wrapping, and finally presenting a gift to friend or family.
With food though, I’ve been know to put out a call to the greater Facebook Universe practically pleading for someone to invite me over!
Brunch with friends? Yes, please.